It was only after his live-in partner left and he began shopping and cooking for himself did he notice that the food packaging industry basically had only two marketing models: couples and family size. This was a little more than annoying. Either he ate a lot of creamed spinach at one sitting, to use this dish as an example, or he kept half of the thawed package in the fridge until later. Often he did not want to eat the same dish two meals running, or even two days running. This meant the risk of shoving the leftover to the back of the shelf as other dishes accumulated in front of it. More than once he forgot about the spinach, and mold spread like crabgrass over the dish.
He hated to throw food away. Nor did he like repeating a dish just because he could not saw the frozen package in half. The obvious answer, in the case of spinach, was to buy fresh spinach and make his own version. But the fresh spinach came two ways: already washed, in a plastic bag, or in a bunch bound by a rubber band. In the end it was the same problem. Either you cook it all at once or you steam half the package or bunch. This sometimes lead to black leaves and rotting, unless you use the stuff right away. Of course you can prepare all of it, then freeze half of that, if you really get down to it. But the fact remains that things are packaged for a minimum of two, or for one person who endangers himself by overeating.
Take ravioli, for instance.
He continued purchasing the brand which he and his partner had shared over the years. They often had their favorite, a four cheeses filling. Recently he had taken to buying their latest innovation, cheese and pear, a delicious combination hitherto unknown to him.
The problem with this brand of ravioli, he had learned in recent months, was that you had to be very respectful of the cooking time of four minutes. Any longer, and the pasta bled its filling into the water. Not only that, to save half the serving and reheat it proved nearly impossible. They stuck together and resisted an esthetic appearance. Pick up one, and you dragged two others along with it, or maybe one dropped loose into your lap. Olive oil didn’t help. He tried in a frying pan with a little cream, then with a little wine, then with just butter. In the microwave, it was practically nuclear destruction.
This was when he discovered an anomaly which might have escaped his notice completely had he continued to live his life paired with a woman. To avoid the problem of reheating the ravioli, he began dumping the whole package into a bowl and counting out one half the package to store in the fridge till another day. At first he thought it was mere chance. Seventeen raviolis, count them again, seventeen. So he saved eight and cooked nine the first day, shoving the others back into the package and into the fridge.
Being a creature of habit, mostly out of a necessity to order his shopping and solitary lunches and dinners, he ran through his repertoire of recipes. A hearty vegetable soup of leeks, potatoes, carrots and turnips, with a cube of vegetable broth. This was good for lunch, maybe with cheese afterward. A day or two later, white beans could be added to the soup and this would be a quite decent dinner for one, or two, if the neighbor dropped in for an episode of The Walking Dead, in which case he might make a baked apple dessert. A week or two later, you would find him cooking the soup again, this time throwing in frozen salmon or hake on the second or third day, getting close to a fish soup, if you add a couple of spices.
In between he often made a two pound meat loaf. This was good for at least three, maybe four meals. The fresh meatloaf with baked potatoes and a salad. Hot meatloaf sandwiches with toasted brown bread and mozzarella, tomato and avocado salad. If the neighbor didn’t drop in to see zombies or use the wi-fi, then the last fourth of the meatloaf could become part of a ragu spaghetti sauce or macaroni Bolognesa.
Another rotating dish was salmon fillet in an orange sauce, usually with green beans and sweet potato. The variation here would be with Basmati rice.
And so on.
So what with eating out and running through the recipes, it was only a couple of weeks later that he had a new hankering for ravioli, maybe with a pesto sauce. Again he counted, surprised to note once more that there were seventeen – although this time it was the four cheese variety. Had this been going on all those years when his partner was the one preparing the meals? Had she in her self-effacing way given herself the short measure? Or did she alternate, sometimes taking the long, sometimes the short of it? Or did she even notice?
Such thoughts led him nowhere, of course. Still, his obsessive nature wouldn’t let it go, so he bought three more packages and checked. Seventeen, every time.
Nothing for it but to look the company up on the web. He found the address and opened up Office Writer.
“Dear sirs,” he began, “it has come to my attention …”
June 10, 2014 – The day I should have been on the way to San Francisco.
Patrick Meadows 1934 – 2017.